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I share Holly Walker’s concern about the plight of post-graduate students. She is disturbed by a new survey showing that

[post-graduate students] committed to finishing their study highlight[ed] concerns about being able to provide basic needs for themselves without access to the [recently cut student] allowance, such as food and shelter.

As Matt has discussed previously, it is hugely unfair that students do not enjoy the same safety net as the rest of society when they struggle to find employment during their studies. If they are making a genuine effort to find part-time work during their studies, they should have access to a benefit or allowance, just as anyone else does.

The more important question is whether they should be supported through their studies even if they choose not to engage in part-time work. In that case I don’t see a convincing rationale for providing free support to students. They are voluntarily investing in their human capital in anticipation of better opportunities for themselves in future. As we have discussed previously

[t]hree years after completing their degree, a bachelor’s graduate will earn 51% more than someone with only secondary qualifications. Someone with a master’s degree will earn 74% more and a doctoral graduate 120% more.

It makes sense that a person would invest in education to take advantage of those wage increases, along with all the other benefits of a tertiary education. However, it is hard to justify forcing the rest of the population to pay for their personal investment that they benefit from so greatly.

Nonetheless, some people find it hard to raise the money to attend university, despite the likelihood of higher future earnings. That is why we have a student loan scheme. If students are finding it difficult to pay their way during post-graduate study then it probably means that they are unable to borrow enough during their studies. That is because student borrowing is extremely expensive for the government, so the government limits its liability and costs by capping the level of borrowing. A simple solution would be to re-introduce interest on student loans, since the interest comprises the majority of the government’s cost of lending. That would allow the government to lend out more money to students at a lower cost.

Through that change we could allow students to live more comfortably during their studies, and ensure that the transfers to those, relatively wealthy, individuals do not become inequitably large.